"This is what we most feared but could not previously prove," said Michael Iseman of the University of Colorado. "the world again faces the specter of incurable tuberculosis."
The latest strain, an airborne bacterium, is called Multi-Drug Resistant TB. It occurs in TB patients who did not complete courses of antibiotics — meaning the bacteria learns to tolerate the drugs already in the system. The study found MDR TB 'hot zones' in one-third of the 35 countries surveyed. Alarmingly high incidences were reported in the Baltic states and the Dominican Republic.
But as TIME's Christine Gorman reports, this is a global phenomenon. "So many strains now drug resistant you can easily go from one country to another spreading it," she says. "A lot of public health programmes in the U.S. have been gutted in the last several years because of the erroneous feeling that diseases like this have been eradicated — but that's just not true."
How do we tackle MDR? Direct observed treatment is the answer, says Gorman — making sure that TB patients complete each course of drugs prevents bacterial resistance. In other words, keep taking the pills.